Resilience is your ally in health, and life

Resilience is your ally in health, and life

A couple of years ago, the 53-year-old woman was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, one of the most difficult cancers to detect and treat. Determined to beat it, she saw doctors around the country but reached the point where nothing more could be done.

Demonstrating what I can only describe as amazing resilience, she found a clinical trial at a major hospital — and it seems to be working. Her recent scans showed improvement, and one tumor disappeared completely. She is back dancing and doing yoga. By never giving up, she has not only extended her life, she has also improved her quality of life.

Time and again, I have seen clients whose health situation seems hopeless bounce back. Not all of it can be explained by medical science. A lot has to do with a person’s ability to face adversity, adapt and remain hopeful.

Some people have this ability innately, but it can be cultivated. For anyone facing a serious health crisis, resilience is a friend.

What does resilience look like?

When someone is resilient, they have an inner strength that helps them rebound from some negative experience, which can be losing a job, getting divorced, losing a loved one or getting a devastating diagnosis. Resilience doesn’t make problems go away. It gives someone the ability to see past them, find joy in the here and now and handle stress.

People who lack resilience dwell on their problems, feel victimized and may turn to coping techniques that aren’t helpful, such as drugs, alcohol or eating disorders. That doesn’t mean you should never have a glass of wine or a cocktail during an event that tests your resilience, but it’s not a long-term solution.

We all have moments that test our resilience. People dealing with long COVID or any chronic illness are certainly being put to the test. A disaster like a terrible storm, mass shooting or the deadly wildfires on Maui tests the resilience of individuals and communities. How many times have we seen people pause, gather their strength and rebuild?



Can you become more resilient?

Resilience is not just a mindset, it’s a skill — one you can develop. You don’t necessarily have to wait until a major crisis erupts to start working on it.

1. Try to become more flexible. We like to be perceived as steadfast and consistent, and we want everything and everyone around us to be the same. Most people tend to be risk-averse, preferring the known to the unknown. But when that “unknown” thing strikes, flexibility can help you deal with it.

The best way to fight off rigidity is to continually stretch yourself to learn new things, take on new challenges, set new goals. Flexibility lets us adapt to new circumstances and learn from our experiences. When things go south, we can ask ourselves, “What would I do differently next time?”

2. Take action. People who lack resilience have a tendency to become paralyzed by fear, anger and indecision. Rather, think about what you could do to improve or change the situation — and then do it. Even if things don’t work out, being in the driver’s seat is a very empowering feeling. It’s why I always encourage my clients to become active participants in their health care.



Exhibit A is the woman I mentioned earlier. She took action, through a clinical trial, to improve her prognosis.

3. Take stock of who’s around you. There are people who give you energy and those who suck it up. Spend time with those who make you laugh, who you enjoy doing things with and who bring out the best in you. You may not be able to avoid the others entirely, but be aware of the effect they’re having on your resilience.

To build a circle of positive energy, consider volunteering. Sometimes after a scary diagnosis, getting involved in fundraising or other events to raise awareness of a disease, like a 5K, can expose you to new and resilient people.

4. Practice good health habits. I know I sound like a broken record, but to maintain and build resilience we all need to get enough sleep, eat smart, get some exercise and limit harmful substances like alcohol. If your body is strong, you are better able to withstand adverse circumstances that may arise.

Building resilience affects more than your physical health. It can help protect you from emotional and mental challenges, too, like depression and anxiety. Examine your capacity for resilience, and then take steps to improve it.

• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates ( Her new book, “How to Be a Healthcare Advocate for Yourself & Your Loved Ones,” is now available on Amazon. She is offering a free phone consultation to Daily Herald readers; call her at (847) 612-6684.